It seems fitting that the man who would become the keeper of the world’s largest repository of African-American history came into life already shaped by the past.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad is the great-grandson of Elijah Muhammad, a man who led the Nation of Islam, mentored Malcolm X and pushed black communities to become more self-sufficient.
“History is powerful. That biography is meaningful,” said Khalil Muhammad. “My place in the world had already been defined by what people had done before me.”
But that’s only one aspect of what drives Muhammad as the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. Learning about unfair prison sentencing and too many wrongful convictions compelled him to fight to make a difference in the black community.
Muhammad describes his life as nearly idyllic, largely free from the social ills his great-grandfather attacked. But in college he learned about the work of a man who toiled sacrificially to free the innocent. “I’ll never forget … hearing the voices of people who had lost decades of their lives in the worst possible prisons in the South,” Muhammad said.
In an interview with The Root, Muhammad discusses how that college experience came to motivate him. Watch it here: